Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Triple A Prospects

When fundraising discussions get around to "who should we ask?" a few answers typically appear: "If only we could get Bill Gates...," "What about Oprah? Let's send her a letter..." I'm sure you've been a part of one of these discussions. They're fun, but not very productive.

The reason why this is not a fruitful road to go down is that you're only qualifying prospects by one criteria: They're rich. They have - in theory - the ability to donate large sums of money.

This morning, I'd like to share the "Triple A" system of rating prospects. In this way of thinking, ability to donate is the third and final "A" qualifier. Why last? Because there a plenty of rich people (and foundations and companies...) out there. I suggest you start with an "A" a bit closer to home:

Access: Big gift or small gift, your best prospects are those you already know or who are close to those you know. Because if you don't have a way to get to the ask, it's all just a fantasy. If one of your board members is Melinda Gates' first cousin, you might be in luck. Otherwise, you can probably take Bill off your list.

You might want to rank your prospects by level of access, beginning with those already on your donor list, going out one level to the friends and family of your staff and board members, then another level to the business associates of your current donors, etc. Start with that inner circle, and build gradually into the outer concentric circles.

Affinity for your cause: After access, affinity is a must requirement. If the prospect hasn't shown an interest in your cause - or worse, has shown that they oppose it - you're not going to get anywhere no matter how close you are. When brainstorming prospects with your team, be sure each name added includes some evidence of an affinity for your organization or the type of work that you do.

Only after you've rated your prospects by level of access and weeded out those for whom there's no affinity, can you go on to the third level:

Ability: I'm careful here to label this "ability," and not "affluence." While affluence might describe the donor's current financial standing, ability can also imply growth potential. A middle-income donor who has the potential to be a steady donor over many years, including a potential planned gift, is just as good (and maybe better) than a richer person may make a one-time gift then move on to the next cause.

Yes, you have to rank your prospects by their potential gift size, but don't be too quick to discard those whose resources aren't immediately apparent. This is why we use all three "A"s in our rankings, and don't just allow ourselves to be blinded by the money.

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